WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Some Democratic presidential candidates worried on Thursday the White House had begun a march to war by declaring Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorism supporter while a top Republican said "bombardment" of Iran should be an option.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney took a hard-line stance against Iran after the U.S. State Department imposed sanctions on the Revolutionary Guard in a bid to pressure Tehran to stop enriching uranium.
Washington also accuses Iran of supplying explosive devices to Iraqi militants that are being used to kill U.S. and Iraqi troops.
Romney, trying to win his party's presidential nomination for the November 2008 election, said in New Hampshire the military option must be on the table in the event sanctions do not work.
"I really can't lay out exactly how that would be done, but we have a number of options from blockade to bombardment of some kind, and that's something we very much have to keep on the table, and if you will, ready ourselves to be able to take because frankly it's unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons," Romney said.
Democrats, meanwhile, were afraid they were hearing a drumbeat for war against Iran, much as occurred in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003.
"I am deeply concerned that once again the president is opting for military action as a first resort," said Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd, a long-shot Democratic presidential candidate.
Dodd and others in the battle for the party's presidential nomination took a shot at the Democratic front-runner, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, for voting in favor of a Senate resolution that recommended the State Department label Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.
"Instead of blocking George Bush's new march to war, Sen. Clinton and others are enabling him once again," said one candidate, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.
Another Democratic candidate, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, said that unfortunately, the Senate measure "made the case for President Bush that we need to use our military presence in Iraq to counter Iran -- a case that has nothing to do with sanctioning the Revolutionary Guard."
Clinton, however, strongly defended her vote in favor of the Senate resolution, said she supported the sanctions announced by the State Department, and urged the Bush administration to engage in "robust diplomacy" with Iran.
"We must work to check Iran's nuclear ambitions and its support of terrorism, and the sanctions announced today strengthen America's diplomatic hand in that regard," she said in a statement.
Clinton, trying to prevent the issue from becoming a point of contention with liberal Democrats concerned she would lead the United States into another war, has been seeking to assure Democrats her vote should not be seen as giving Bush authority for war on Iran.
"I believe that a policy of diplomacy backed by economic pressure is the best way to check Iran's efforts to acquire a nuclear weapons program and stop its support of terrorism, and the best way to avert a war," she said.
Clinton is still taking heat from anti-war liberals for her 2002 vote in favor of a Senate measure that authorized the use of force against Iraq.